Institute of Forensic Medicine

Current projects

“Studies on Phosphatidylethanol - a promising biomarker for the detection of harmful ethanol consumption - and its possible use for abstinence monitoring"

Project management

Prof. Wolfgang Weinmann, Forensic Toxicology and Chemistry, Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern

Project participants

Prof. Wolfgang Weinmann, Forensic Toxicology and Chemistry, Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern
Alexandra Schröck, Forensic Toxicology and Chemistry, Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern
Dr. med. Matthias Pfäffli, Traffic medicine - psychiatry and -psychology, Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Bern
Prof. Dr. Annette Thierauf-Emberger, Institute of Forensic Medicine Freiburg, Deutschland

Project data

Funding insitution: Swiss Foundation for Alcohol Research (Request 254)
Funding period: 10.2014 -  10.2015
Subsidy: CHF 70'000.-


As harmful drinking is a main problem in contemporary society – especially in road traffic safety – alcohol biomarkers detectable in body fluids can give information about risky drinking habits and alcohol abuse. Therefore, biomarkers are for example used for the medical evaluation of the driving aptitude after drunken driving and withdrawal of the driving license.

A new biomarker in this field is the phospholipid phosphatidylethanol (PEth). It is already detectable after single consumption of about 50 g ethanol – which we could show recently in a preliminary pilot study. An LC-MS/MS method has been developed, which allows the detection and quantification of several PEth homologues at concentrations down to 10 ng/mL, and which has the potential for being used in clinical laboratories on a large scale. Correlations found for PEth and for other biomarkers are promising. As PEth has an elimination half time of four to ten days in blood, it is possible to detect regular risky drinking behavior, as well as alcohol abuse, also when - due to fast elimination - low or no blood alcohol concentrations are found. Furthermore, dried blood spots can be used for analysis of PEth, but need to be evaluated for capillary blood by method comparison.

Comparison of alcohol consumption markers and their detection window: phosphatidylethanol (PEth) can be detected by regular heavy consumption for several weeks and is already after a single use (up 1 per thousand) for several days detectable, as latest drinking tests showed.